Your weekly peek into what’s coming up next on REEL 13, written by host Richard Peña.
REEL 13 CLASSIC | JANE EYRE
This week’s classic is Jane Eyre, the 1943 adaptation of the beloved novel by Charlotte Bronte directed by Robert Stevenson.
Upon the release of his own adaptation of Jane Eyre in 2011, director Cary Fukunaga quipped to The New York Times that there was an “unwritten law” that Charlotte Bronte’s enduring favorite must be remade every five years. And with 18 adaptations for film and television so far, it might well seem that way, with Jane Eyre ranking with the novels of Jane Austen as a favorite Hollywood go-to source for literary adaptations thought especially to appeal to female audiences—“chick lit,” in the crude terminology of today’s publishing industry.
For the 1943 adaptation, Joan Fontaine takes on the title role as Bronte’s intrepid young governess who gets more than she bargained for with her first position at Thornfield Hall, the gloomy, gothic lair of Edward Rochester, played by a top-billed Orson Welles just three years after he blazed onto the Hollywood scene with his revolutionary cinematic debut in Citizen Kane. In following Jane Eyre’s story from her childhood years as an abused girl at a harsh orphanage, Bronte’s narrative offers an engrossing saga of the plight of a woman alone, trying to make her way in a world with none of the advantages of family lineage, wealth or exceptional beauty to help her.
Also featured in this expressionistic adaptation are Peggy Ann Garner as the young Jane, Margaret O’Brien as Mr. Rochester’s young ward Adele, Agnes Moorehead as Jane’s nasty aunt, and an eleven year-old Elizabeth Taylor as Jane’s lone friend at the orphanage. Welles’ Citizen Kane composer Bernard Herrmann provided the appropriately moody score.
In discussing her 2011 film version of Jane Eyre, producer Alison Owen commented that perhaps one the reasons that Charlotte Bronte’s novel has proven to be so popular for film and television adaptation is that as period stories go it’s actually relatively cheap to make. The main requirement is an imposing manor house in a suitably windswept location. Perhaps budget concerns are a factor, but surely the tortured and at times masochistic dimensions of Jane and Rochester’s romance has certainly continued to fascinate and take on new implications for successive generations of movie audiences.
Originally, legendary producer David O. Selznick hired John Houseman to adapt the novel in 1941, teaming him with British director Robert Stevenson; as unlikely as it might seem, Aldous Huxley also contributed to the script, which in fact was considerably condensed from the Bronte novel. Much of Jane’s final odyssey, after she flees Thornfield Hall, was dropped from the film. Yet much to Houseman’s chagrin, the perpetually over-committed Selznick ended up selling the project to his brother in law William Goetz at 20th Century Fox.
The film was then delayed until Selznick’s first choice for leading man, Orson Welles, finally became available when his exclusive contract with RKO ended. Always looking to earn money for his own projects, Welles warily signed on in order to self-finance his South American project, It’s All True, begun under the auspices of the US government’s “Good Neighbor Policy” but then abandoned after Welles ran into some trouble in Brazil. While no longer officially involved, Selznick still kept a close eye on the production, fearful that Welles would bulldoze the gentlemanly Robert Stevenson, who left to join the British war effort as soon as production was completed. But at least according to Welles, the two got on well, with Joan Fontaine noting in her autobiography that Stevenson quietly “regained the reins” as shooting went on and as Welles became more and more distracted by…being Orson Welles. Eventually settling into a career of directing for television, Stevenson would score a late career triumph in 1964 with Walt Disney’s blockbuster adaptation of Mary Poppins.
REEL 13 INDIE | HELLO, MY NAME IS DORIS
This week’s indie is Hello, My Name is Doris, a 2015 comedy drama directed by Michael Showalter.
Sally Field plays Doris Miller, a sixty-something single woman taking her first tentative steps in life after the death of her invalid mother, finally finding herself on her own for the first time after serving as her mother’s caregiver for most of her life. Her brother and sister-in-law urge her to get rid of her mother’s house on Staten Island—along with everything inside of it—as Doris has clearly crossed over the line into being a hoarder. Trying to shake her post-funeral daze, Doris’ only other reliable solace comes from her feisty longtime friend Roz, played by Tyne Daly.
On her way to her data entry job at a Manhattan office, something remarkable happens in the packed elevator: a handsome new co-worker named John, played by Max Greenfield, is forced to crowd into her. And even more remarkably, instead of ignoring her as if she’s not even there, he begins to make polite small talk to cover their awkward close quarters. And from such a small seed a mighty oak of erotic attraction begins to grow inside of Doris, unleashing a confusing volcanic passion that Doris initially doesn’t know how to handle. Inspired by self-help mantras, Doris decides to do something she’s never done before: she is going to “Go For It,” throw caution to the wind and launch an all-out assault on John as her romantic conquest, regardless of how improbable a quest it seems likely to be.
Essentially a reflection of the entrenched sexism of the male-dominated film business—or is that simply society—there seems to be no end of movies about romances between older men and younger women. But Hello, My Name is Doris actually tackles a subject that remains relatively taboo in American culture: a romance between an older woman and a younger man. From Sunset Boulevard to The Graduate to Harold and Maude, the outcome is usually unhappy or downright tragic. True, while Doris does make quite a mess of things, and doesn’t get her man in the end, at least the film approaches the subject with humor and understanding, without the inherent revulsion that usually characterizes other such May-December romances. A popular entry at various film festivals, the film was released theatrically in 2016, with Sally Field later honored with a Best Actress nomination by AARP’s Movies for Grownups Awards in 2017.